Gifts of Princes
PLEASE NOTE: Because of the timing of the end of Pesach, Naso is the Parasha this week in Israel and next week in the Diaspora.
The second half of Parshat Naso lists the gifts the princes of the 12 tribes brought for the dedication of the Tabernacle, one prince each day, beginning on Rosh Chodesh Nisan. Each prince chose what he thought would be the most appropriate gift for the dedication of the place where the Divine Presence rested.
On the first day, Nachshon ben Aminadav, prince of the tribe of Yehuda, presented his offering. According to Bamidbar 7:13-17, he brought:
One silver dish, weighing 130 shekels, one silver basin weighing 70 shekels… One gold pan… one young bull, one ram, one one-year-old male lamb for a burnt offering, one male goat for a sin offering, and two oxen, five rams, five male goats, five one-year-old male lambs as peace-offerings.
The following day, Netanel ben Tzuar, prince of the tribe of Yissachar, brought his offering. The Torah lists each item he offered, and we find that his offering was identical to that of Nachshon. On day three it was the turn of Eliav ben Chelon. And he brought the same thing too. Each prince on each day brought the same gift. But instead of writing “ditto,” the Torah lists the details of each donation. This is one of the reasons that this is the longest single parsha of the year.
Interestingly, Rashi does not explain the intent behind the first offering. But he does explain at length the intent of Netanel ben Tzuar who brought his donation on the second day. The silver dish alludes to Adam, the basin weighing 70 shekels alludes to Noach and the 70 nations who are descended from him. The spoon reminds us of the Torah, and so on.
Then Rashi is silent until verse 84, after all the princes had brought their offerings.
Why does Rashi only explain the meaning behind the second offering?
Ramban explains that each prince had a different intent when he brought his gift. Rashi went into detail about the second donation to show that the intent of Netanel was different than that of Nachson. Then, Rashi expected us to figure out the individual intent of each of the following 10 princes.
Rabbeinu Bachaya (on Bamidbar 7:84) explains the meaning behind each gift. The tribe of Yehuda was the progenitor of kings, so Nachshon’s gift alluded to King Shlomo and Mashiach.
The tribe of Yissachar would become renowned for its Torah scholarship, so Netanel ben Tzuar’s gifts alluded to Torah. Zevulun specialized in international trade. So, Eliav ben Chelon gave a donation which to him meant trade.
Each tribal leader brought an identical gift, but each had entirely different intent and meaning behind the donation.
When we read the list of the same donations over and over again, we think it is repetitive. We may perhaps wonder why the Torah didn’t insert something more interesting. But actually, the Torah is teaching us a profound message here.
We sometimes judge people by their actions or try to understand them by looking at what they do. But if we assume that their motivation is the same as we imagine it to be, we are making a mistake. We cannot understand someone’s intent through watching their actions. Quite the opposite.
It is only through knowing someone’s intent that we can fully understand their actions.